Cummings and goings

The government's confused messaging over lockdowns in towns like Bolton could be more damaging for Ministers than the testimony of Dominic Cummings according to Jim. In his latest blog he also reflects on the latest cruel legal blunders faced by the Hillsborough families.

Jim Hancock

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MIXED MESSAGES

If Dominic Cummings wasn’t so arrogant, hadn’t tested his eyesight at Barnard Castle and hadn’t promoted Boris Johnson only to try and destroy him…. the impact of what he said about the handling of the pandemic might have destroyed the government.

However, it is likely that his colourful testimony won’t move the political dial. The public remain grateful for their jabs and are prepared to grant Ministers a great deal of slack over how they handled the pandemic in its early stages.

The greater danger for the government might lie in further repetitions of the communications cock up involving long suffering communities in Bolton and Blackburn. People and business want to return to as normal a life as possible in a clear way.

All that said, Cummings 7-hour testimony cannot be just dismissed as an act of revenge for perceived slights (although that is surely part of the motivation).

He is right in much of his analysis of what happened in February and March last year, although we must always remember the role of Captain Hindsight. Governments going back to Blair must accept blame for not having an emergency plan in place for a respiratory pandemic. Herd immunity was the policy for a brief period. Testing was stopped. There was a lack of trust by Whitehall in local councils and health chiefs. Most serious of all was the decision to send infected patients from hospitals back to care homes.

Above all Johnson was off the case after delivering Brexit on Jan 31 and when he did appear, made light of the growing crisis.

Cummings is wrong in one respect at least though. There was no certainty how the public and business would react to lockdown instructions, and that understandably led to hesitancy.

On the political front, it is interesting that Cummings praises the role of Rishi Sunak. Having groomed Johnson into Number 10, does he now hope to do the same for the Chancellor? I agree that there is something wrong with the party system that offered us the choice of Johnson or Corbyn. I agree with his observation that civil servants are too process driven and risk averse, but his bull in a china shop approach, prevented him from conducting the reforms that are needed.

INQUIRY FARCE

The length of time taken to investigate major scandals and bring cases to court links the two big stories of the week.

The government have cleverly ensured that the findings of the public probe into how the pandemic was handled will be unlikely to report until after the next General Election. Most of the politicians and civil servants will have moved on. Labour is right to call for this to be speeded up.

We also saw this week the likely bitter end of the attempts of the Hillsborough families to get justice. The time it took is a major injustice in itself, and in respect of the collapsed trial this week, one has to ask why millions were wasted. The point of law was that the police officers altered statements were for the Taylor Inquiry which did not have the status to attract an obstruction of justice in a criminal court. Surely the Crown Prosecution Service knew this fatal flaw and instead lead the poor Hillsborough families up another blind alley?

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